Luminous Darkness

“Luminous Darkness”

Epiphany 5A
Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matthew 5:13-16

Who among those who have read the gospels does not know that Christ has made all human suffering his own?

Origen, “On Prayer”

On Sunday, when I read that Philip Seymour Hoffman had died, my breath caught a little. I didn’t know him, of course, though I’ve admired every performance of his I’ve seen. (Oh, the power of cinema to make us feel like we know the actors we love—indeed to make us love them in the first place.) Hoffman was an actor of astonishing intuition and virtuosity. As one writer put it, “he could nail a part in one punch, summoning the richness of an entire life in the smallest gesture.”

It would be tempting to narrate Hoffman’s all too brief life and tragic death within the tired tropes of celebrity culture (money can’t buy you love; movie stars are desperately lonely people) but, thankfully, I’ve seen none of that in the moving tributes I’ve read to Hoffman’s life and art.

In particular, James Martin, SJ, recalls spending time with Hoffman in preparation for the off-Broadway production of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot:

Phil, as everyone called him, projected a unique blend of relaxed intensity as a director . . . He approached the text with an almost scholastic seriousness, carefully attending to every line in the script . . . From time to time, to illustrate a thorny point, or to describe the emotion that might underlie a scene, he would offer a story from his own life. “Did you ever have this experience?” Phil would ask, and recount a tale illustrating despair, or hope, or joy, or betrayal or trust . . . When I asked Phil Hoffman about his directing style on “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot,” he readily agreed with the inherent strength of the parable—or, in his words, the personal anecdote—in its ability to communicate more than a strictly worded directive . . . In Phil’s words, Jesus was always suggesting, in order that the decision to follow or not follow was always that person’s own decision.

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crucifixion

A Different Sort of History

Seventh Sunday After Pentecost
Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

2 Kings 5:1-14 OR Isaiah 66:10-14
Galatians 6:7-18
Luke 10:1-12, 16-20

“What a piece of work is a man! How noble in

reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving
how express and admirable! In action how like an Angel!”

-Hamlet, Act II, Scene 2

“Well, boy, if he’s an angel, he’s sure a murderin’ angel.”
-The Killer Angels

It’s a week of significant anniversaries in North America. July 1 is the 146th year since the passage of the British North America Act, creating the Dominion of Canada, July 1-3 is the 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg, the so-called turning point in the American Civil War, and July 4th marks 237 years since the Declaration of Independence provided justification for a military rebellion already in progress. Canada Day is rather less blood-spattered than the American anniversaries, largely thanks to the outcomes of much earlier battles in Quebec in 1759and 1775, and along the Niagara frontier and Lower Canada in 1813-14. These commemorations, however, suggest how much human history celebrates noble gestures, great events, and admirable acts of courage, while glossing over base expediencies, savage violence, and cold exercises of power. Read more

Blake's Job

A Right to an Answer?

Job 38:1-7

Do we have the right to an answer from God? Read more

Eucharist

The Eucharist and the Hollow Place

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

Joshua 24:1-2, 14-18
John 6:56-69

At the center of Christian worship is, and always has been, a meal – the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, the times coalesce: at the moment of communion, salvation history and future hope meet in the holy now. Those who take this meal, who eat this flesh and drink this blood, take in a meal at once like and unlike the meals of their ancestors. It is bread, it is wine, yet it is somehow so much more, for as Christ himself says, it is also eternal life. At the center of Christian worship is this meal, and this meal is the future hope of eternal life.

Yet at the center of common human experience is not now, nor has it ever been, anything remotely like eternal life. For much of the world, human life is short and brutish, ugly and bleak. In a worldwide family fractured over religious, political, economic, and racial lines, humankind’s ecumenism is rooted in our shared experience of death, of suffering, of pain. These are our common heritage, our familiar burden.

And this presents a problem for any who would eat and drink – and truly believe in – this holy meal. Read more

chesnutt

The Encounter More Than the Cure

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wisdom 1:13-15, 2:23-24 OR 2 Samuel 1:1,17-27
Psalm 30 OR Psalm 130
2 Cor 8:7,9,13-15
Mark 5:21-43

Last year, the British Humanist Association (which lately has become, among other things, a cheer squad for Richard Dawkins) began an ad campaign on city buses in UK with signs declaring, “There probably is no God, so relax and enjoy your life.” This led, as the BHA no doubt intended, to a torrent of unhelpful comments from an array of sources – pro, con, and otherwise – claiming to have special insight on the matter. One observation, however, stuck with me: namely that signs about relaxing and enjoying one’s life were somewhat more persuasive on a bus in London, the wealthy capital of a military-industrial nation state, than they might be on a bus in the slums of Calcutta or Port au Prince.

Vic Chesnutt, the late singer-songwriter from Athens, Georgia, made a much more interesting atheist than Dawkins or his BHA public relations team ever will. Read more